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July 28, 2010

Biscuit Run state park could open in 2014

Reader comments (2) DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, July 27, 2010

The director of Virginia’s state park system said Biscuit Run could open as a park within four years, depending on whether the General Assembly approves a bond referendum in 2012.

“If the stars all line up, it could happen,” said Joe Elton, state parks director.

The land was sold to the state for $9.8 million on the last day of 2009 by Forest Lodge LLC, a company that had paid $46.2 million for 1,200 acres. In 2007, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors approved a rezoning that would have allowed the construction of 3,100 homes south of Charlottesville.

However, the poor economy prompted the landowners to work with the state on a deal that involved selling the land below market rate in exchange for preservation tax credits.

“Biscuit Run was a surprise opportunity for us,” Elton said. “For 20 years there’s been the notion that there’s a need for a state park in the greater Charlottesville area.”

Last week, Elton gave an update on master-planning efforts to members of the group Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards. He said the park’s cultural and natural resources have been surveyed, and the boundaries of the park have been marked. An advisory committee is working on the plan now, and there will be at least two meetings early next year to get input from the public. The master plan will have to be approved by the Board of Conservation and Recreation.

Virginia’s park system was created in 1936 and has since expanded to 35 parks. Elton said the system received an injection of resources for improvements due to a pair of bond referendums in 1992 and 2002. A third is being considered for 2012, which could provide the capital for phase one of Biscuit Run, which would allow the park to be open to the public at least during the day by 2014 at the earliest.

“Phase one is infrastructure,” Elton said. “Roads, trails, picnic areas.”

Full build-out of the park would likely include cabins, which have become a money-maker for the park system. Elton said the state made more than $4 million in rentals last year, all of which goes back into the system.

Some in the community hope the park will include athletic fields, but Elton said such amenities are not likely to become part of the plan.

“State parks are generally more passive recreation,” Elton said. In all, he said he anticipated that less than 15 percent of the park would be developed, leaving the rest for open space.

One potential obstacle to the park’s swift development is a desire to keep the park intact. Currently, there is a 36-acre parcel owned by the Breeden family, the original owners of the larger parcel sold to Forest Lodge LLC in 2004. Elton said negotiations are under way to conduct a land swap.

“We’d like to not have a hole in the middle of the park,” Elton said. “They’d like to be on the edge of the property.”

The General Assembly would have to approve any land-swap deal.

Elton himself has visited the property three times to determine its suitability for a park.

“When I got to the highest point [in the park], I had a 360-degree view and I don’t remember seeing any evidence of man. I saw forest,” Elton said.

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